Not suitable for people with irony deficiency and
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Friday, 13 August 2010

Something for the weekend Mrs B?

A very nice lady called Kate raised an interesting question about my last post, where I mentioned buying my boys purses. I now realise that in America and possibly Australia "purse" is what women carry their most vital possessions around in - credit card, phone, lipstick, handcuffs, welding kit. She imagined Boys 1 and 2 tripping along with little designer bags over their arms, Boy 1 with a Mulberry Bayswater and Boy 2 with a Hermes Birkin, for example. You see, here in England we call "purses" "handbags". For us, "purses" are what you put your money/small change in. What do you people call them? Change purses? Bill folds? Condominiums? Eggplant?

That terrible old know-all Oscar Wilde went on about two nations divided by a common language. He does have a point.

I know in America "pants" are trousers; here "pants" are knickers, underwear. I am always amused that Americans talk about "pants suits." And I think "suspenders" in Americaland are what men use to hold up their trousers; in England these are called "braces"; suspenders are what people use to hold up their stockings/liven up their marriage/wear when playing Dr Frank N Furter in the local am dram production of "The Rocky Horror Show".

The best example of the US/Anglo language mismatch I ever witnessed was during a conference for lawyers from all over the world. Someone asked an Amercian lawyer what she would be wearing to the dinner that evening. "A sheath" she replied. The entire British contingent collapsed in very undignified squawks of laughter. Much to the bemusement of all delegates from other countries. Eventually when we'd picked ourselves off the floor, blown our noses, tucked our shirts back in and put our glasses back on, we explained that in England "sheath" means, er, a condom. (No, nothing to do with condominiums).

So you see ladies, purse sounds weird. But it could have been worse. Much, much worse.

Images from Wikipedia of Tim Curry and Monica Bellucci


  1. I figured out what you meant by purse but I call them wallets. Personally I just love the differences between British and American english. Endlessly amusing to BOTH sides!

    P.S. - I'm assuming that you know that although to knock someone up in Britain is to wake them, over here's it's to impregnate them - another source of snickering by Americans when that phrase is used.

  2. hi blighty,

    this is all so funny, especially the sheath story. but i still think ff needs a translator on her sidebar b/c when i first started reading her i really had no clue what she was talking about half the time. sometimes i still don't. but it is endlessly funny still. i love all our differences.


    ps ~ speaking of..."my post is all norma no mates."

  3. Oh Blighty, this made me laugh, my step Mother is from North Carolina, The South, she has a wonderful accent, just like Scarlett O Hara, down there they call handbags 'Pocket Books', when I go and stay and we go to restaurants, and after the meal we might visit 'The Bathroom', she would say uhh Where's my 'pocket book', at first I was looking around for a, well filofax. Ohh and a shag is a dance down there...

  4. My favorite English expression I heard recently on a British comedy show (I think it was The Thin Blue Line)...."fannying about" I love it!!! That is just the cutest thing I ever heard!
    My neighbor who is an older woman calls her handbag a "pocketbook" I have no idea where that comes from but many older people do call them that.
    Have a great evening....
    Tina xo

  5. We in Australia mostly call handbags and purses the same as England, purses can be wallets too. It like our 'thongs' which are just sandals but make Americans look askance that we've mentioned them. Love your posts and sense of humour!

  6. You know me so well - my favourite bag is the Birkin but in the interim I am trying to get Mr K to buy me a Mulberry Bayswater. So funny.

    Other issues between different "languages" include trunk, torch and biscuit. Clearly not as funny as your examples though!

  7. In Oz we call bags handbags and I don't own a purse for money I own a wallet.

    I am always amused that coriander is referred to as cilantro and that Americans say ERBS when they mean HERBS.

    BAY-SIL for Basil is another one. I say Basil as in Faulty or Brush.

    Australians and the Brits say the same stuff except you say it with a posher accent.

  8. Dear Mrs Blighty, a very senior female diplomat who was coming to Santiago for negotiations asked her Chilean counterpart what the dress code would be in Summer. "Oh", he replied airily, " We are very informal in Chile- you will not be required to wear pantys (sic)". Pantys in Chile are not knickers or as we call them undies but pantyhose. One can only imagine the face of the female diplomat on being told this and the face of the Chilean once he realised what his seemingly innocent comment actually meant in the English speaking world...

  9. ! A coin purse. More sensible but less amusing imagery. More's the pity.

  10. In Australia we call them handbags. A purse is something you put money into. A wallet is what you put cards, receipts and stuff into. A clutch is also used - as a going out bag.

    The funniest thing is the thong. We have it as a type of rubber footwear. It is also a popular type of skimpy underpants.

    Thank you as always, from Australia, for the enlightening times of Blighty :)

  11. This is a fun topic Blighty.
    I use a wallet, a coin purse, a handbag, wear thongs in summer, undies all year round, use a port when travelling, swim in togs (or a cozzie, depending on which State you live in), invite too short trouser legs down for the party, like FF I cook with Herbs and I like to take the mickey.
    English and Oz expressions, meanings and humour are very similar. We can thank our convict settlers.
    By the way 'Norma no mates' has a friend over here called 'Nigel no friends'.

  12. For anyone interested in Australian slang check out

  13. Although we are with the Brits with bags being handbags and money/credit cards going into a purse or wallet (they are same thing basically), we are with the Yanks with Pants and Pant suits - I own several for work! ;) (and wear UNDERpants underneath my pants).

    Never heard Sheath before and I lived in the UK fot quite a few years.


  14. So glad you are all still talking to me after I lowered the tone by referring to condoms - but let's face it, it was only a matter of time...
    Lillian - where I come from "knock up" has the same meaning as for you, so be careful, don't trust all Englishmen, they are not necessarily offering an early morning call..
    Janet - to be honest I don't always understand the lovely FF either, she is sooo sophisticated what with her "mulch" and her "forchids"
    Hi Dash - "shag" - cue Beavis and Butthead type snickering
    Tina - hello there! My language expert (Mr B) informs me that"fannying about" is tolerable but here "fanny" is apparently quite rude, not the same meaning as in US;
    Dear Anonymous - actually thongs here also mean those knickers that scare people when worn by elderly German men on the beach; it gave me quite a turn when Faux Fuchsia said she wore thongs on the beach, was so relieved when I was told it meant flipflops;
    Miss Kitty-Cat - so funny about the bags, I just chose at random but of course the Birkin is the Ultimate Bag, lucky you if you can get a Mulberry as a stopgap!! As Mr K is obviously such a generous chap, he won't mind popping another one in the shopping basket for me, will he?
    FF - did not know "cilantro" how fascinating, is it Italian? - like they call "courgettes" "zucchini". I love how Americans say "vayse" not "vahse" for "vase" and "rowte" not "roote" for "route". Now I am confused..
    Linda in Chile - that is so funny, really made me laugh, did she enter into the spirit of things or refuse to go to such a rampant country?

    Kate - actually you raise another good point - which is thank goodness I won't have to buy my boys these designer bags, phew, they seem to cost as much as my first car did, but probably much better constructed and more reliable?

    Elizabeth - thong still means those worrying knickers to me, do you remember that trend for low slung jeans which revealed the thong at the back, preferably with a tattoo just above, classy.

    Anne- Marie - you've lost me again - what is a port? And the too short trouser legs? Am I being dense??
    Hi Elise - I am so sorry you lived all that time in UK and never heard the expression "sheath" you must have gone to the wrong sort of bars or met the right sort of men.
    Sorry, that was naughty of me! You are right, though, it's an old fashioned expression but I guess as lawyers we were only just catching up on Victorian slang! No doubt "codpiece" would have us all in hysterics as well.

  15. Blighty: Can't stand tramp stamps (tattoo above the butt area).


My post is all Norma No Mates, cheer her up by commenting!